Coventry City vs. Nottingham Forest – 08/08/2021
Sometimes, the size of the occasion can outweigh the occasion itself.
After what feels like more than two seasons, we are finally back home. The Ricoh/Coventry Building Society ‘CBS’ Arena has missed out on promotion to, and survival in, the Championship. It has missed out on Liam Walsh, Leo Østigård, and, er, Gervane Kastaneer. Conversely, Bright Enobakhare missed out on St. Andrews (Who in their right mind outside of those at a corporate level would willingly call it the Trillion Trophy Stadium?). Whether or not you went to Birmingham, or watched last season through the half-asleep iFollow camerawork (soundtracked by the human blooper-reel that is CWR’s Clive Eakin), there was no doubt that everyone who supports Coventry City in earnest wanted to be in only one place yesterday.
So, a bumper crowd, on a Sunday thanks to us being in front of the Sky Cameras. Our first game back at home in two years. We can put a lot of the bad stuff behind us now and start looking forwards again. It’s been a long time coming, this; not just being at home again, but being in a ground again. For many people, this was their first big event since COVID-related restrictions were eased. The size of the occasion, as alluded to at the beginning of this slew of words, was huge.
At the end of the day though, it all boiled down to a football match involving Coventry City. If you strip away all the excitement surrounding the homecoming, and the return of fans to live events, you get the sobering slap in the face that is the first game of a season. It always brings you back down to earth after a long summer of having little else to do but demand a peek at the away kit every day for a month, only to complain once you see it.
You’d be forgiven for expecting us to come out and play like we had a short stick of dynamite strapped to every player. Instead, we were treated to a tentative opening period. What few chances we did create tended to come from out wide, resulting in crosses that were easily dealt with by Forest’s defence. At the other end of the field, Forest were finding a lot of joy attacking our right flank. Julien Dacosta at right-wing back often looked lost as to whether he should stick or twist. At times he was caught out of position being too far up the pitch after a turnover in possession, forcing makeshift centre-half Fankaty Dabo out wider to cover him. On other occasions, in an attempt to counter this, he was reticent to closing down the man in possession, giving Gaetan Bong and the pacy Alex Mighten ample time on the ball. Fortunately, Forest were profligate with the chances they did create. Safe to say it hadn’t been easy on the eye.
Over time we were able to get our foot on the ball more often, and start to undergo our customary patient attacking play. However, the attacking unit of Martyn Waghorn and Viktor Gyökeres, with Callum O’Hare in support, were finding it hard to gel. This led to moves breaking down at crucial moments, and one of these instances proved costly. Gyökeres ran with the ball through the middle but ended up losing possession, and with City high up the pitch, Forest were able to break down our left. Ben Sheaf was back and covering the run of the Forest attacker, but, having recently picked up a needless booking, was unable to dive in to try and win possession. The ball was played in low across the box, and as Dabo tripped over in trying to get across, all that was left was for Lyle Taylor to tap it home.
1-0 Forest. It wasn’t in the script, but it was a very predictable improvisation.
Very little else happened in the first half, save for a good stop by debutant goalkeeper Simon Moore near the end. It was time for the proverbial rocket from Mark Robins. It was supposed to be a party atmosphere. Pity those who expected anything but the harsh reality of watching Coventry City to manifest on their lazy Sunday afternoon.
We came out with a renewed sense of intent in the second half, as Dacosta made way for Michael Rose, allowing Dabo to move into his natural position. Thanks in part to Forest deciding to protect the one-goal lead, we were able to play a few extra yards further up the pitch, and begin to ask more questions of the Forest backline. In spite of this, we still created precious little by way of clear chances, until Ben Sheaf played in another debutant in Ian Maatsen, down the left channel, who cut onto his right foot before curling his effort off-target. Sheaf would then wake the crowd up, after a one-two with O’Hare saw his deflected shot beat the keeper, but not the crossbar.
This was what was needed to shake it up baby now, twist and shout, c’mon c’mon c’mon c’mon baby now…
Sorry, got carried away; but that was basically all that happened for the next ten minutes. The crowd found it’s voice, and in turn this gave City another surge of energy. To really add to the fervour, Jodi Jones was brought on for Maatsen after the hour mark, which lifted the crowd even higher, thus creating a larger buzz for the players to act on. A couple of corners for the opposition notwithstanding, as the game wore on, it seemed that if either team was going to score the second goal of the game it would be us.
It took some time in coming, but eventually we made the breakthrough, albeit with the help of some O’Hare flair. With three defenders penning him in near the right corner, O’Hare was able to turn two and nutmeg one to find himself free in the box. His low cross was deflected away, but Sheaf was on hand to knock the ball to Gyökeres, who leathered it home. Limbs. Relief. Catharsis. Joy. Indescribable energy.
With less than ten minutes to play, most were content with the draw. However, Forest were tiring, and we started making more inroads. Eventually, O’Hare was felled on the left flank this time. It was the fifth of six additional minutes. The crowd vivacious; the atmosphere was beyond excitable. Gus Hamer’s free kick was lifted to the back post, where Dom Hyam powered his header down towards goal, only to find it blocked. O’Hare ran on to the loose ball, but his shot was blocked. With the most final of dice rolls, captain Kyle McFadzean had to make something of the next loose ball. So he hit a half-volley goalwards. Goalkeeper Brice Samba got down and across to get something on it, but the shot had too much on it, be it power or some sort of divine right, and it bounced over the line and into the correct part of the side-netting.
Delirium. Pandemonium. Spontaneous Combustion. Euphoria. We’d only bloody gone and done it, hadn’t we?
The noise at the final whistle was indescribable. The atmosphere insurmountable. For everything that happened on the pitch, that feeling at the end was more of an apt, emotional bookend that complimented the general feeling before a ball had been kicked in anger that afternoon. The curtain fell to rapturous applause. This is what it meant to be back home, watching your team represent your city, in your city; singing and cheering, gasping and cringing, hollering and hooraying. The result of the occasion may not matter too greatly over the course of a 46-game season, but the size of occasion always will, therefore outweighing it.